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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Mystery Shopping

Dear Sue: I would like to get some information about how to become a mystery shopper. From the little bit that I have heard about this field, it sounds interesting. What can you tell me about it? 

- Want to shop

Sue Says: Mystery shopping has been around for decades and recently has experienced a profusion of growth, according to Gail Ribnick of Service Perceptions, a Minneapolis based mystery shopping service. It is one of the most effective ways for service companies to measure how they are doing. Retail stores, hotels, restaurants, property management companies, banks and many other industries use mystery shoppers to help them improve their customer service.

Objectively measuring service is essential because studies have found that only 5% of unhappy shoppers register complaints -- 95% simply stop shopping at an establishment after a negative experience, Ribnick said. Using a mystery shopping service provides a company with feedback on customer service, product knowledge, handling returns, company procedures, salesmanship and teamwork. Mystery shopping can also include telephone surveys, providing the employer with feedback on telephone etiquette, handling of problems and salesmanship. In addition, shoppers can be used to evaluate the competition to gain feedback on a company's position in the market, the competition's customer service, product knowledge, salesmanship, company policy, product mix, pricing and promotions.

Jim Poynter, author of the book, "Mystery Shopping," says that mystery shopping is one of the most effective quality control programs available.

There are between 50 and 75 mystery shopping companies in North America. However, due to the appeal of this type of work, there are a number of companies running scams, asking for money up front. Be careful when making a commitment with a company, warns Poynter.

The appeal of being paid to shop is immense. Experienced mystery shoppers are paid to eat out (and reimbursed for their meals) and paid to shop, often keeping the merchandise they've purchased. Because of these benefits, mystery shopping seems quite glamorous. However, most people aren't willing to do the kind of work they need to do to get the top paying jobs, according to Poynter. For people who want additional income it can be a great job, but it does involve work. Detailed reports are required so that the company gets the kind of feedback they are paying for.

Shopping services can be found in the yellow pages in your local telephone directory, and there are several firms advertised on the Internet. Poynter's book lists a number of mystery shopping companies and other information on the industry. In addition, there is a "magazine" on the Internet which can be found at Another resource is The National Mystery Shopper Directory, in which shoppers pay a fee to be listed. They can be reached by calling 918-835-4479.

For the right person, mystery shopping can be a fun, flexible and profitable job. I enjoyed learning about it writing this column!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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